|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday signed a controversial overhaul of the election laws that Republicans say is needed to prevent voter fraud and Democrats call a cynical act of partisanship to improve GOP chances in Florida next year.
Critics assailed him for endorsing “voter suppression” tactics aimed at making it tougher for President Barack Obama to capture Florida’s prized 29 electoral votes in 2012.
“I want people to vote, but I also want to make sure there’s no fraud involved in elections,” Scott said. “All of us as individuals that vote want to make sure that our elections are fair and honest.”
But some supervisors who run elections in Florida say the state’s voter registration database is highly reliable. A statement from their statewide association warns Scott that the changes could cause chaos and confusion at the polls next year.
The League of Women Voters says it will suspend voter-registration activity because the bill requires such groups’ volunteers to register with the state and face fines of up to $1,000 for not submitting voting forms within 48 hours.
The bill also cuts early voting days from 15 to eight and requires some voters who have moved to cast provisional ballots, a change most likely to affect college students.
The bill wipes out policy in place for four decades in Florida that allowed voters to update their legal addresses when they voted.
Republicans call that an invitation to fraud, so the new law allows only voters who have moved within the same county to update their addresses at the polls.
None of the bill’s most controversial provisions was pushed by Scott’s chief elections expert, Secretary of State Kurt Browning. He broke weeks of silence Thursday about an hour after his boss, Scott, signed the legislation.
“I know bad election law when I see it,” Browning said. “I don’t think this bill is bad for Florida. … It doesn’t negatively impact Florida voters.”
The law takes effect immediately, which means its first test will be in Miami-Dade, the state’s largest county, which is electing a new county mayor and other officials Tuesday. Supervisor of Elections Lester Sola will end early voting Saturday — three days before Election Day, as the new law requires — a decision candidate Marcelo Llorente is fighting in court.
But in five counties it won’t go into effect until the federal government approves. Any change in state election laws that affects those counties — Hillsborough, Collier, Monroe, Hendry and Hardee — requires approval by the Justice Department in a process known as “pre-clearance.”
The legislation generated far more public opposition than any other bill of the 2011 session. Some was engineered by the League of Women Voters, which has thousands of members in Florida.
Scott’s office reported 14,000 calls and e-mails in opposition; nearly 1,300 in favor. A notation by Scott’s staff said:
“Majority oppose. Urging Governor to veto these bills because they change our voting laws, making it more difficult for some voters to cast their vote.”